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September 21, 2011

Follow Fintry says Big Society guru

One of the inevitable consequences of fame seems to be a loss of privacy –  ‘achievements’ somehow become public property. When the folk from Fintry set out to secure a degree of community ownership from a private wind farm developer, who’d have guessed their achievements would be held up by the Prime Minister’s former policy guru as the very embodiment of Big Society. Phillip Blond, aka the Red Tory, wants his Big Idea to get back on track.

David Maddox, Westminster Correspondent, 16/9/11

A community energy trust in Scotland has been cited as a model that could be copied elsewhere in the UK as part of David Cameron’s Big Society.

The Fintry Development Trust, which has set up a wind farm collective in the village near Glasgow, is one of the examples singled out by the social and economic commentator Phillip Blond, as a project that promotes the values of the Big Society. 

The Fintry project is run by volunteers and has generated £140,000 for the community since it began in 2003.

Mr Blond, once known as Mr Cameron’s philosopher king, made his claims in a chapter of the Blue Book, a collection of essays by right wing thinkers and politicians who want to counter the influence of the Lib Dems in Mr Cameron’s coalition government.

Mr Blond, whose Red Tory book is the basis of much of Mr Cameron’s Big Society vision, believes that the coalition has failed to be radical enough in supporting volunteering.

He also hits out at the failure of the Prime Minister to develop the Big Society vision which was the centrepiece of the Tory election manifesto.

Blond states that there is “not yet a full vision of what might be achieved.”

He adds: “Indeed the inability to follow through with the radical economic and social potential of big society risks an inadequate response to the country’s needs and the real risk that the policy becomes toxic before it is realised.”

Mr Blond has previously praised Scottish Parliament land reform legislation which allowed community buy-ups of islands and former estates as a model of what might be achieved.

In his latest piece he identifies the Fintry Development Trust, originally set up by the Fintry Four – David Howell, Martin Turner, William Acton and Gordon Cowtan – from which the entire village benefits.

He points out that this has saved each household there £600 a year in energy bills and is expected to make a profit of around £500,000 in 25 years to be invested in the community. The insulation project has saved villagers £90,000 a year and reduced CO2 emissions by 464 tonnes.

“This is what civic action and voluntary association can do,” he says.

But Mr Blond turns his fire on other parts of coalition policy which he believes is undermining the ethos of volunteering and the Big Society.

He warns that the government’s payment by results policy undermines small and mutual enterprises and he also argues that low wages and a lack of jobs means that welfare reforms are “not enough to shift people out of poverty and dependence” while “welfarism is creeping up the income scale”.

He is also critical of attempts to reform the House of Lords by replacing peers with an elected Senate. He argues that the broad and balanced array of interests within the Lords was one of the reasons Britain remained stable in the 1930s and did not turn to fascism.